Monitoring the Monitors

Screen time could affect more than your eyes.

Ever had a job that revolved around a screen? As technology encompasses more and more of life, many adults are exposed for at least 8 hours a day—and that’s only for work.

Many health organizations including the Mayo Clinic recommend a limit of 2 hours daily screen time for children. Health magazine Modern Medicine found that more than 2 hours ups a child’s risk of psychological problems.

A study by the Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington revealed that many preschoolers in fact receive almost double screen time, a disturbing fact considering the exposure is capable of disrupting critical brain development. 

But is there no “negative” to excessive screen time for adults—some of whom may be tinkering on a  third of their day?

Although adults are no longer rapidly developing, I couldn't think that it would be completely without effect, so I looked into it.

All that time spent in front of digital devices could lead to what has been termed “popcorn brain” by researcher David Levy, a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington. With popcorn brain, the mind is so hooked on electronic multitasking that the slower-paced life offline holds no interest.  

Could we be slowing down our own brains?

In the June issue of PLoS ONE, Chinese researchers published the MRI test results of 18 college students who average 10 hours a day online. They found that compared to the control group (with 2 hours daily exposure), the marathon users had less gray matter, the “thinking” parts of the brain.

Your emotions may be at risk, too. A study noted in CyberPsychology Behavior and Social Networking examined the “relationship between internet use and psychological well-being.” Not too surprisingly, the study found that the lonely or those lacking social skills “could develop strong compulsive Internet use behaviors resulting in negative life outcomes... instead of relieving their original problems.” These outcomes were found to perpetuate the feeling of loneliness.

Of the possible physical effects, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) tops the list. Symptoms of this include eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain.

Other obvious risks include carpal tunnel and weight gain that are associated with extensive computer use.

Perhaps it’s time to force ourselves to unplug a bit more.

Adults are often encouraged to participate in activities demonstrated to keep the brain young. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide says learning is the number one way to healthy cognitive function: reading, math problems, word puzzles, and crafts with manual dexterity.

Plus, there's just something more exhilarating about actually scoring a touchdown, rather than having the video game avatar in your place. 

Are you feeling the effects of popcorn brain? What do you do to battle life online?


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